Kolkata to Varanasi on a river cruise

Since 2009, Her­itage River Cruises, and now its sis­ter com­pany, Her­itage River Jour­neys, have sought to bring di­verse his­tor­i­cal and life ex­pe­ri­ences for con­tem­po­rary trav­ellers on river cruise ships.

TravTalk - India - - Guest Column -

Her­itage River Cruises and Her­itage River Jour­neys have sought to imag­ine di­verse his­tor­i­cal and life ex­pe­ri­ences for trav­ellers on their cruise ships, the RV Ben­gal Ganga and the MV Ganges Voy­ager. The man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of th­ese com­pa­nies, Raj Singh, started to ex­plore river cruis­ing in In­dia in the 1990s but earnest ex­plo­ration of the wa­ters be­gan in the mid-2000s. With the help of the In­land Wa­ter­ways Author­ity of In­dia, In­land Wa­ter Trans­port of the Gov­ern­ment of West Ben­gal and nu­mer­ous in­di­vid­u­als, he delved into the pos­si­bil­i­ties of cruise tourism.

Sail­ing on an IWAI sur­vey ves­sel, he planned an itin­er­ary and imag­ined anew the pos­si­bil­i­ties of start­ing pas­sen­ger cruis­ing from Kolkata to Varanasi af­ter nearly a break of more than a 100 years. Pon­toon bridges, vary­ing lev­els of wa­ter, dif­fer­ent regimes of state and cen­tral gov­ern­ment tax­a­tion and the lack of in­fra­struc­ture were just some of the dif­fi­cul­ties that the com­pa­nies and their ships have en­coun­tered and dealt with to de­liver a tourism ex­pe­ri­ence that is of a very high stan­dard. Each ship has 28 cab­ins, a din­ing room, a bar, a spa, and view­ing decks. There is a crew of 35 on each ves­sel which main­tains and ser­vices the ship and its pas­sen­gers. The Ben­gal Ganga is an ex­pe­di­tion river craft, made en­tirely out of Burma teak and iron. It sails from Kolkata to Patna and down­stream to Kolkata be­tween Oc­to­ber and late March when the river’s wa­ters are plen­ti­ful yet calm. The Ganges Voy­ager, char­tered for the next four years by the in­ter­na­tional tourism or­gan­i­sa­tion Haimark, is a ho­tel on wa­ter, with suites and in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion rem­i­nis­cent of the Raj. It sails be­tween Kolkata and Mur­shid­abad once a week.

A new ves­sel, the Ganges Voy­ager II, is about to be launched in 2016. With all three travers­ing the river, ap­prox­i­mately 3,500 pas­sen­gers a year will travel to this lit- tle ex­plored part of east­ern In­dia. Dur­ing all this growth, the com­pa­nies have tried to keep the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pact of tourism on the com­mu­ni­ties along the river to a min­i­mum. Lo­cal trans­port and lo­cal forms of cul­ture are part of the tourist’s ‘ In­dia’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

The ships are staffed with crew from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, of di­verse so­cial back­grounds and at­tract in­trepid trav­ellers who wish to see the Ganga for its famed mys­ti­cism. All com­mer­cial ven­tures need to make money. But how we make that money is equally im­por­tant. Our col­lec­tive vi­sion is to build com­pa­nies that do their busi­ness hon­ourably, in an eco­log­i­cally thought­ful way, as well as bring plea­sure and the se­cu­rity of a good liveli­hood and great travel ex­pe­ri­ences to many.

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